We all want to get as much from our cycling as we can and, whilst it’s great to just get up and go, having a few pre and post ride routines can make life simpler and your riding much more enjoyable! have a look at these 10 things to do before and after your cycle ride and see if you agree. Or, even better do you have any top tips of your own that you could pass on in the comments below?
plan a route
There’s definitely something to be said for just getting on your bike and riding, the wind in your hair, the thrill and freedom of the open road, the wandering spirit on two wheels etc etc bah blah blah…
This works well in some sort of utopian dream world but it really is annoying to get lost on a bike, really irritating to realise that you now have to cycle back up that bloody hill you’ve just sailed down because you took a wrong turn and equally irritating to arrive back home half an hour earlier than you planned to.
Similarly, for all sorts of complicated and technical reasons to do with worthy things like achieving goals and personal improvement it’s generally a good idea if each of your rides has a plan or purpose or exists within the context of training for something. In some ways just randomly cycling around gets a bit boring so having a plan or a goal for each ride is important, it’s motivational and inspiring to try to go a bit longer or a bit faster or to be able to cycle up that bit of hill without sounding like a wheezing pig with asthma (one of my personal goals!)
There’s also something rather nice about planning a ride maybe the night before, looking for interesting turns and views, maybe riding well known roads in the opposite direction or looking for the best cafe stop along the way! Poring over a map is a simple pleasure that should be savoured and is, to a certain extent becoming a bit of a lost art and it appeals to the explorer in all of us a bit I think!
Once you have your route planned you can of course commit it to memory, put it into your bike computer if you are able to or use an app like Ride with GPS on your phone. This will give you step by step directions (a bit like a car sat nav) if you want it to and this can be fun if you wear a pair of headphones so that you can get updates as you ride. You can also just use Google maps on your phone (although I don’t think this will give the directions for circular routes) to keep tabs on where you are either by having it on your handlebars or in a back pocket.
This is also the time to charge up your bike computer if you need to. How annoying is it to get to your bike all ready to go, route planned, just to realise that the computer needs charging up! Aarrgghhh!
Get kitted up
I completely admit to being a comfort loving slightly creaky middle aged man and I don’t, by any stretch of the imagination, see any point whatsoever in not doing the very most that I can to keep at the correct temperature, have the most freedom of movement and have the most comfort possible whilst I’m mounted on my bike.
Primarily, this need for comfort is targetted at my butt. I don’t want to speculate about your butt but I’m completely convinced that my butt was not designed to have my 200lb weigh pushing downwards on it whilst a mere sliver of a 14cm wide bike seat pushes upwards between my buttocks.
Throw in some road vibrations and a few pot holes and it can get nasty!
The point is a don’t think you will ever regret buying an expensive pair of bib shorts or whatever takes your fancy as long as they have a very high quality, preferably personally sized pad in them.
That pad, after an hour or two of cycling will be worth it’s weight in gold!
I also see no reason whatsoever why you wouldn’t smother yourself in chammy cream as well to cut down on the chafing and keep everything running as sweetly as possible down there!
It’s also well worth taking the time to put on two pairs of socks if it’s cold, gloves, maybe a buff or head wear or, if it’s hot to sun cream up. Time well spent in sartorial preparation will always be appreciated once you are into your ride. You can always take layers off if you are too hot or add them if you are too cold but it’s really unpleasant not to have the option.
So, the main areas to consider are your contact points, the main one is obviously your seat as above but also consider wearing gloves whatever the season as they do increase comfort on the bars over long periods of time and will protect your hands if you are unfortunate enough to come off the bike.
Personally I always wear some sort of eye protection as well as I find that my eyes water a lot if I don’t and there’s always the risk of getting dust and grit/stones in your eyes if they are unprotected.
It goes without saying that you should be wearing a helmet.
I read someone the other day about someone who refused to wear one on the grounds that it gave motorists the message that they didn’t have to take care and look out for you as much – crazy or what!
Eat and hydrate
It stands to reason that your body needs fuel to perform and you need to make sure that you are adequately fuelled before setting out on a ride and that you have snacks with you if you are riding for any more than a couple of hours or so.
The main key is to think about what and how much you are eating. Obviously it’s not a great idea to have a huge breakfast of bacon, eggs, sausage etc etc etc and then immediately jump on your bike! You need to bear in mind that it takes the body a lot of effort to break down the amount of fat in that type of food and you are likely to get indigestion if you are also trying to ask your body to cycle hard at the same time.
It’s far better to have a lighter breakfast that is composed of foods that will give you slow release energy such as porridge as this will be easier to digest and will keep you going for longer. If you are riding at another time of day try to go at a time well after a meal when you have finished digesting but aren’t feeling too hungry.
Once on the bike, particularly if you are cycling for any period of time then having a snack will keep your energy levels up, help prevent any risk of your bonking (ie completely running out of energy and grinding to a halt!) and also prevent you for feeling the need to hoover up the whole contents of the fridge on your return home – well in theory at least!
The same goes for hydration. Even on a short ride you should be drinking small amounts regularly even if you don’t feel particularly thirsty as it’s very easy to become dehydrated on a bike and not a pleasant experience at all.
Again, try to avoid filling up too much with a large amount of liquid before a ride as I personally don’t know any dignified way to have a pee in lycra shorts either for men or women. Please enlighten me in the comments if you do!
Check over the bike
Finally after all of this preparation palava it’s time, at last to get on your bike. Please, can’t I just get on my bike and ride the damn thing!
Well, hold your horses because I do know of a few quick checks that you should do that can potentially cause pain and misery further into your ride if you miss them out!
The first thing is to have a quick look at your tyres. Hopefully you will check them weekly or so to make sure that you have the right pressures in them but it’s worth doing a quick squeeze test to make sure they don’t feel low and that you haven’t got a slow puncture. It’s also worth running your hands quickly round each tyre checking for sharp objects.
Next, check that your brakes are OK and working. Just a quick squeeze and push is all that you need to do followed by a quick visual check around the bike for anything that looks out of place. If you haven’t previously cleaned your bike or the previous ride was very wet the chain may look like it needs a quick oil and a few moments spent doing this before your ride can save a lot of squeaking and wear on your components over the course of your ride.
Have a quick think about the weather and the light as well. Do you need to have lights with you for when you return and it’s darker for example.
Finally check that you have your emergency kit with you. I keep mine strapped to the bike in a small saddle bag under the seat – a spare inner tube, tyre levers, multitool, mini pump and some cash for emergencies.
Yay! There you go! All ready to ride! Fully prepared so let’s get to it!
warm up gradually
Of course you will be completely raring to go and want to enthusiastically sprint off in a cloud of tire smoke but, sadly, the less time you spend warming up at the start of a ride and the harder you go at the beginning the more you will suffer later on!
Potentially, you could suffer strains and pulled muscles if you work them too hard from cold and also you put a great deal of stress on your cardiovascular system if you ask it to go from resting to flat out too suddenly. You will probably find that your energy levels deplete more quickly over the course of your cycle ride and you might find that you are crawling along feeling completely exhausted by the end.
So, what to do?
Firstly, it takes considerably longer than you would think and most people seem to think that a good ten to fifteen minutes of warm up is what you need. If you want to keep things simple then very easy pedalling at a fast cadence will start to “get the blood flowing” whilst not putting too much stress on your cardiovascular system. You can then gradually start to increase the effort over ten minutes until you feel ready for action.
If you want to be a bit more scientific about it then have a go at this:
First five mins of easy pedalling at around 90/100rpm in zone 1 followed by five minutes of gradually increasing from zone 1 effort to zone 2 effort. You might find that, if you are monitoring your heart rate rather than your power, that your heart rate takes a while to catch up so base your energy level on “perceived effort” rather than your actual heart rate for the moment. Five minutes gradually increasing from zone 2 to zone 3. For the next five mins two or three brief but intense sprints interspersed and then followed by free spinning recovery zone 1.
The main thing is that you are listening to your body. It might just be my advancing age but some days it seems to take a little longer to get going than others. A lot of this is psychological I think but there’s nothing wrong with taking it easy for another few minutes if you don’t feel ready for making a big effort yet. The other variable factor is the weather and again, this might just be me, but it does take longer to get warm and comfortable on cold days and it’s really important just to take the time to acclimatise before pushing yourself.
Stretch and cool down
It’s equally important at the other end of the ride to cool down and to also stretch out a little. Again it can be a bit of a shock for the system going from flat out to, erm well literally flat out on the sofa so take a few minutes at the end of your ride to just slow down. Do some easy pedalling for five to ten minutes and allow your heart rate to drop and ease your self gradually back into the real world!
It’s also a really good idea to do the last few minutes of a ride in your recovery zone one with some nice easy spinning fast cadence work as this will just refresh your legs and relax your leg muscles a little as well.
Ideally, it would be nice to come home to a massage after each ride…….just wait a minute whilst I investigate the likelihood and possibility of that with my partner……….no, that’s not happening so the next best thing is to do some gentle stretches. As cyclists we are a bit notorious for only working our muscles in one direction and in one way so it can be good to do a bit of opposite stretching after a ride. Stretching can also reduce the risk of injury and is, well actually quite nice to do. You do need to take a little time over it to feel the benefit and need to do it regularly so try to make it part of your post ride routine each time.
The main areas to concentrate on are the calves, quads, hamstrings and gluteus. It can be a really good idea to do some back and neck stretches and to work on your core a bit as well as these muscles also take a bit of a hammering but in a different way as they can easily knot up and build up tension over the course of a bike ride. Cyclists often get neck and back ache and having a strong core and paying attention to these areas post ride will certainly help to alleviate any symptoms.
Again I’m not medically qualified and if you are in any doubt or need specific advice you should consult your doctor. I can pass on what has worked for me and also what I have gained through my research in the hope that it will help others but please use with your own discretion.
Wash your bike and yourself
There’s a great deal of pleasure to be had standing in a hot shower after an invigorating cycle ride! It’s also a great idea for your nearest and dearest if your first activity after getting in is to head to the bathroom!
Let’s not labour the point but focus our attention rather on the cleanliness of your bike as well! There is definitely more pleasure to be had in riding a clean bike and of course a clean bike goes faster (yes, really!). Similarly if your transmission system is clean rather than caked with mud or dust it’s going to work more efficiently, more quietly and it’s going to last longer as well.
Apart from all of this there is something very pleasant about riding along on a “well oiled machine” – anyway, I’m not hugely keen on cleaning my bike and I do find that I’m more motivated to do it immediately after a ride (before I myself have bathed!).
Use a warm bucket of soapy water and get all of the road muck off, check everything over, degrease the transmission and re oil and lubricate.
This way everything is sparkling and spic and span ready for your next ride. Now obviously you can’t do this after every single ride and I only tend to do it after long rides or, to be honest every fortnight or so but it always feels like a good job done when it’s done despite the fact that the bike frustratingly just gets filthy again as soon as I get out on it again!
It’s worth mentioning that if you do wash the bike as soon as you arrive home you may well need to put on something a bit warmer than your cycling top as your body will cool quite rapidly. You don’t want to start getting the shivers whilst you are in the middle of a wash so wrap up even if you fell a bit too warm for a start.
Eat and drink
And now comes the glorious moment when you can eat and drink, guilt free, to your heart’s content safe in the knowledge that you have just burned of probably a thousand or more calories on your ride.
Well yes you can of course and sometimes that impulse is overwhelming but, if you have eaten as I suggested above before and during your ride you should hopefully be able to resists hoovering up the contents of the fridge in one gluttonous sitting!
If possible try to have a relatively light, normal and healthy meal as soon as you are out of the shower. I’ve done terrible things like gone for pub lunch and drunk beer straight after a ride and felt amazing for a short while before suffering a huge, sleepy energy slump. This can be quite pleasant but does, in my experience at least, mean that the rest of the day is a bit of a write off because my body just goes into panic digestion and hibernation mode!
It’s far better to eat well and healthily, particularly for that post ride meal and, most importantly to keep hydrated and to drink plenty of healthy thirst quenching fluids and not beer!
Gaze at Strava
I didn’t used to be a great fan of Strava but, having been uploading my rides for a few weeks now I have to say that I’m completely hooked! I don’t think it’s massively helpful for a very mediocre athlete such as myself to be comparing myself with other cyclist’s performance but there’s something absolutely compelling about looking over all of the stats after a ride. Hot tea in hand, legs all tingling and a happy glow of health and well being filling my cycling soul!
In many ways it’s a bit like the opposite of the pleasure of pouring over a map before a ride and planning the route. It’s a sort of ride nostalgia that’s very pleasant! However, a word of warning, no one else, no matter how much they love you or support you in your cycling is going to be remotely interested in your Strava info. There will be an overwhelming urge to share your figures with your nearest and dearest but spare them the pain, they might be being polite but you are really honestly and truthfully boring them stupid.
I know this, I have three teenage daughters and my Strava stats are serious boredom!
Feel smug and plan the rest of your day
It really is a great feeling once you have been on a ride. In fact, and we all probably realise this, it’s slightly addictive in that it’s almost impossible not to feel good, to feel a sense of achievement and well being.
You do it once and you want more and more!
I think this feeling should be relished, enjoyed and used to fuel the rest of your day. The feel good energy you get from your cycling can be channelled into other aspects of your life, it’s enriching and nourishing – almost like recharging your batteries.
So I think we should be self congratulatory, we should feel good about what we have done – there’s nothing bad about riding a bike, it’s a guilt free pleasure and one which we are entitled to feel just a little bit smug about!